With Jayce Tingler taking over the helm, on-base percentage quickly became a top priority for him. Pham became the symbol of a changed mindset in San Diego.
He has always been an on-base threat that the Padres have always lacked. In 2019 the Padres ranked 26th in OBP with .308. In 2020 they jumped up to 8th with a .333 OBP. It wasn’t just him but the overall new mindset and additions of players like Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham.
Pham has amazing fundamentals that make him a great player. His success comes from a low whiff rate, high walk rate, and high exit velocity. A low whiff rate means when he decides to swing, he will make contact with the ball. The high walk rate implies that he doesn’t chase at pitches. If you look at 2019, his take rate at pitches in the shadow zone was 57 percent, while the league average was 47 percent. He took 91 percent of those pitches in the chase zone, while the league took only 76 percent of the pitches.
The shadow zone is the area on the border of the strike zone, a little bit in the zone and a little bit out of the zone. The chase zone is on the outside of the shadow zone. Pitches in this area are clear balls, and as the name implies, pitchers are hoping the get the batter to chase at that pitch.
Lastly, the high exit velocity needs to be explored. In 2019 Pham finished in the 80th percentile in exit velocity and in the 97th percentile in 2018 (he did not play enough games to be ranked for 2020).
In the 2020 season, Pham was riddled with injuries and struggles. The bright side of 2020 came in the postseason. In the postseason, he slashed .375/.400/.458 in six games. That burst of life should get faith that it was the injuries bogging him down all season.
Tommy Pham has issues not necessarily in how he plays baseball, but in his availability to play. Early in the offseason, he made headlines when he was involved in a fight outside of a strip club. Pictures and video of the fight show him bleeding in the back after being slashed with a knife. He is allowed to do what he wants off the field, but his safety is vital. If this happened mid-season, it could have taken him out for multiple games, at minimum.
The Padres probably had a conversation discussing staying out of trouble so he can stay on the field. If this was a one-time problem, there isn’t much of a need to worry. However, if Pham gets himself into dicey situations again, this will be a serious character flaw that could affect on-field production.
The next negative is the fractured hamate bone he suffered last season. That took him out for a portion of the season. Once he was back, there were numerous occasions when he was wincing in pain after fouling off pitches. The injury never seemed to go away all season, but should be all healed for 2021.
The Padres brought back Jurickson Profar, who took over the left field spot when Pham was injured last season. With the crowd at second base, Profar should compete for playing time in the outfield, specifically in left field. This means Pham will have competition for playing time.
The designated hitter position has not yet been announced for the National League in 2021. That will take away opportunities from Pham. Profar was the better fielder last season, so if they perform the same at the plate, then Pham will see himself on the bench more often.
No matter what happens with playing time, Tommy Pham provides so much value in his approach at the plate. As mentioned earlier, Pham is the symbol of the Padres’ push for better on-base production. What he can teach his teammates like Fernando Tatis Jr. or Manny Machado is so valuable. This might be Pham’s last season with the Padres, but both Tatis and Machado will be around for a long time.